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Wiltshire Community History

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Parochial School, Chitterne

Parochial School, Chitterne Date Photo Taken c.1906
Uploaded 26/03/2015 17:14:56
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Map Latitude 51.195014660417826 : Longitude -2.012520432472229
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Original Media Location: Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre

Chitterne School was built in 1840 on land near the village green, given by the lord of the manor, Walter Long. The villagers constructed the building themselves, making the walls of cob and the roof of slate. There was a playground at the front surrounded by a wall with a gate. The school was built to accommodate 110 children and had two classrooms. The bigger room for the older children measured 40 feet by 20 feet and the smaller room for the younger ones measured 20 feet by 15 feet. In the 1870s the average attendance was 70 pupils; they were taught by two teachers with the assistance of a young monitress.

The first master to stay at the school for a considerable time was William Brown and his wife Sarah; they arrived in 1867 and stayed until Mr. Brown's death in 1906. In 1859, when the school was inspected, the Chitterne school-room was described as very fair, with a boarded floor, loose forms and a stove. There were no parallel desks. Between 50 and 60 girls were taught by a mistress and 60 to 70 boys by a 'worthy and intelligent master'. This division was slightly unusual, as the classes were usually divided according to age. There were also two smaller schools in Chitterne St Mary. 15 to 20 children were taught in the chapel school-room by a 14 year old girl; ten farmers' children were taught in a preparatory school by 'a very respectable young woman'.

During William Brown's time the school building was divided into two rooms, shared by three classes. The children aged four to nine years were in the small room; the other two classes shared the larger classroom which was divided by a folding screen. The small room had a gallery and four or five rows of tiered seats, with the oldest children sitting at the back. These children rested their slates, provided by themselves, on their knees, as there were no desks. In the larger room were two box desks with seats attached and some sloping desks with shelves underneath.

Mr. Brown's logbook entries give the impression of a conscientious teacher who cared about his work. He tried hard to encourage the children to engage with their lessons. The subjects he concentrated on were arithmetic, spelling, grammar, geography, dictation and reading. Generally the children behaved well. His biggest problem was poor attendance, caused mainly by the children working in the fields or bad weather, which meant the children stayed at home, as they had no protective clothing. The farmers in the village regularly used the children as labour in the fields. In April they helped with potato planting and in the summer the holiday was always taken to coincide with the harvest. In 1875 school began again in September after a seven week break, but most of the children did not return until mid-October. They had forgotten a lot of their learning from the previous term and discipline was not good. The master wisely noted that only time and patience would alter this.

Most children left school before reaching the third standard, which was the expected standard of a nine year old. In 1873 Mr. Brown noted that a nine year old boy left school to become a shepherd boy. The master wished that education was compulsory, but the logbooks show that the wishes of the farmers (and the money the children earned) always came first. In 1895 the summer holiday was not taken until well into August, but many children were away in July. Children from a few families were habitual non-attenders and their names were regularly taken by the School Attendance Officer. Unfortunately this made little difference and the headmaster's frustration is evident by his terse comment 'this farce is becoming wearisome'. During the winter Mr. Brown ran an evening school for those children who wished to progress, but who also had to work. Some years this was successful but not always
Illness was another problem that affected attendance. The atmosphere in the school, with so many children in a relatively small space, was not good; the inspectors regularly mentioned that the ventilation needed attention, but it was many years before anything was done. During the winter the children were plagued with the usual coughs and colds. One year it was so bad that it was impossible to hear the children reading aloud, as so many of them were coughing. Serious illnesses were dealt with by closing the school in order to halt the spread of infection. In March 1890 the school closed for two weeks due to an outbreak of influenza and bronchitis.

In 1906 when William Brown died, his wife and daughter resigned, causing a complete change in staff. Miss Shayler, Miss Watson, Mrs Taylor and Miss Sharp were all headmistresses for approximately ten years each. Miss Feltham was headmistress from 1906 to 1910 but remained as infant teacher until 1950. During the first World War the problems experienced by the head teacher were still the same. The same few families spoilt the attendance figures and bad weather and illness were constant. It was also very easy for the children to be distracted by anything of interest happening in the village. In July 1917 school was cancelled on the afternoon of the military sports that took place in the Canadian Camp. The head teacher knew it was pointless opening the school, as very few children would turn up. In 1918 the Easter holiday (normally two weeks) was reduced to just two days. There was a shortage of farm labourers and the farmers needed the extra help in the summer. The school closed on August 12th and reopened on Sept 16th, but attendance was poor for a further month.

Miss Watson was the head teacher from 1920 to 1929. Her main difficulties were illness but also challenging pupils, who found learning difficult. She seems to have been a very caring mistress. Following a bout of influenza she remarked that the children were better off at school where they were warm and comfortable, even though they were not really well enough to work. She was also concerned that some children were not well looked after at home.

Some of Miss Watson's pupils were not able to cope with subjects such as arithmetic, history and geography. She did not want them to feel inferior and gave them practical tasks to do instead. When she first arrived Miss Watson found the whole school a challenge, but by 1924 she had made a big difference. The school received a glowing report; the children were described as 'bright, natural, and happy in their school life'.

Mrs. Taylor was at the school from 1929-1940. An excellent report in 1933 noted that she 'continues to maintain the high level of discipline and efficiency which has been a marked feature of this school for a period of years'. The most significant change during this time was in July 1937 when the school changed to a Junior School. Eighteen senior pupils were moved to the senior school in Warminster. This had the effect of reducing the number on the roll from 49 in 1936 to 28 in 1937. The previous year the classes had been reduced to two, due to the falling numbers, and possibly in anticipation of the change to come. (In the early 1920s the school still had 80 pupils).

There were constant problems with ventilation in the building, but the managers would only spend money if it was unavoidable. As early as 1910 the School Medical Officer reported that there was not enough open window space, but the managers declined to take action. The stoves did not always work efficiently; sometimes the building was too hot, sometimes too cold; occasionally the room filled with smoke. This must have been a contributory factor in the amount of illness in the school. The head teacher often noted how hot and stuffy the building was, and that it was difficult to stay awake in the afternoons. In winter the classrooms were very dark in the afternoons. In 1926 four windows were opened in the main classroom, which made a big difference. When the decision was taken to undertake some work at the school, it seems to have taken a long time to actually happen. Internal redecoration was discussed in 1922 but did not happen until 1930.

During the Second World War there were three head teachers. Miss Sharp arrived in 1940 and Mrs Veale in 1942. Miss Phillips (later Mrs Burton) arrived in 1943 and stayed until 1957. In 1937 a new tortoise stove was purchased to replace the open fire stove. In 1939 £70 was spent on interior decoration; electric light was installed in 1941. By 1950 the building was in a poor state. In January 1952 the school moved temporarily to the chapel school room while repairs and redecoration were carried out. They moved back to the school in March. The sanitation system was very primitive; in 1956 there is reference to Wiltshire County Council emptying the lavatory buckets once a week. Mains water was finally brought to the school in 1957 using the War Department's main supply, but the taps were not fitted and the water was therefore not made available for use until December 1959!

Between 1938 and 1958 pupil numbers remained in the 20s. In 1957 Mrs Burton left and was replaced by Miss Chumbley; Miss Selby arrived in 1961. By 1964 pupil numbers had reduced to just 17. Mrs Chamberlain came to the school in 1966 and the first mention of closure was in April 1967. The school closed in July of that year and the remaining pupils moved to Codford School.

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